Years ago, I gave a conference talk titled “Hiring: Literally Any Other Way Would Be Better Than What You Are Doing.” I shared the story of my father, who was offered severance during the telecom crash and never worked again, partly because he fell victim to unemployment discrimination.

What is Unemployment Discrimination?

My father, a divorced, single baby boomer with grown kids, saw his job as part of his identity. He searched for work everywhere but faced significant hurdles. Hiring managers told him he was expensive, too old, and probably wouldn’t be happy doing any job. Others saw the gap on his resume and dismissed his qualifications, stating, “If you were really as good as you say, you’d still be working.”

During his job search, my father exhausted unemployment benefits, depleted his savings and retirement accounts, sold his home, and finally depended on early social security benefits in his sixties.

Unemployment discrimination, or employment gap discrimination, stems from various factors, including negative stereotypes, recency bias, stigma, and employer preference for passive candidates. This bias against unemployed job seekers can have severe consequences, like prolonged unemployment, mental health issues, and economic impacts.

And it’s one heck of a blow to a job seeker’s identity, ego, and emotional stability.

How Unemployment Discrimination Hurts Everyone

Unemployment discrimination affects not only individuals like my father but also society at large. Governments and non-profits, especially in countries like the US, where businesses receive favorable tax status, must address the financial health of local and state governments and non-profit organizations. This is where corporate social responsibility (CSR) comes into play.

Unemployment discrimination increases the burden on social welfare programs and services provided by non-profit organizations. It strains governments financially and demands more social spending to address unmet needs. And although some governments and organizations responded to the telecom crash and the Great Recession by investing in job training and vocational education, my dad wasn’t in a good mental health space to “go back to school.” He barely had enough energy to keep track of his dwindling checking account and apply for work. He’s not the only one. It’s hard to start over when you’re in a psychologically unsafe space created by your former employer.

Worse, many companies don’t understand or care about what’s happening in society when they engage in unemployment discrimination. As a result, here’s what I learned from his nightmarish story: If you’re not currently working, even when it’s through no fault of your own, future employers don’t know how to judge your performance.

Job seekers suffer because companies don’t know how to measure performance during the recruiting process. Families, non-profits and governments are left to clean up the mess.

The Fix: Encouraging Skills-Based and Inclusive Hiring Practices

Skills-based and inclusive hiring practices can significantly address unemployment discrimination. Businesses and hiring managers should focus on job seekers’ skills and qualifications rather than employment status. Here’s how these practices can help:

• Skills-Based Hiring: Reduces bias, expands the talent pool, and ensures better job matching.
• Inclusive Hiring Practices: Includes blind recruitment, standardized assessments, training and education, and transparent job postings.

By implementing these practices, businesses can address unemployment discrimination, create a more equitable job market, and tap into a broader talent pool. This fosters innovation and promotes a diverse and inclusive workplace.

My father had a lot to offer in the early days of his job search. Had someone just considered my dad’s candidacy and looked past the gap on his resume, his story might have turned out better. Instead, he struggled until his sixties when the government stepped in with social security benefits and, eventually, Medicare. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s so unnecessary. We can do better, and we should start immediately.

Ending Unemployment Discrimination Today

Unemployment discrimination is a multifaceted issue that affects individuals, communities, and economies. However, businesses have an obligation to address this problem by implementing skills-based and inclusive hiring practices and adopting CSR principles that positively affect job seekers, communities, and the economy. We can reduce the burden on social welfare systems by fostering a more inclusive job market.

It might be too late for my father to return to a complementary role in tech or communications. But if we fix this problem, we might save ourselves the heartache of navigating this complex issue in the future.

After all, the next person laid off might be you.